An iconic Jewish organization dedicated to Holocaust research, remembrance, and accountability is urging the Croatian government to let Serbia's president visit the Jasenovac concentration camp — a notorious site where tens of thousands of Serbs were murdered by the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is calling on Croatian leaders to reconsider after tensions flared this weekend when Serbian President Alexander Vucić was denied a private visit to the camp.
Croatian authorities said they found out about the planned trip via "unofficial channels," according to the Washington Post. Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman told reporters that it was an "unacceptable" breach of protocol to not formally notify the Croatian government about the visit.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to stress that in the planning of any visit by foreign officials the time, nature, and program of the visit should be subject of official communication and agreement by both sides," Grlic Radman said. "This was not a trip to the seaside. The president of a country is a protected individual."
Serb officials called Croatia's decision "scandalous."
In retaliation, hardline Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin said all Croatian officials must now announce any transit or visit to Serbia and will be placed under a "special regime of control."
"This was an anti-European and anti-civilization decision and brutal violation of the freedom of movement," Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told the pro-government Pink television network. "I don't know what our relations will look like in the future ... this is sending a frightening message."
Holocaust historian Efraim Zuroff, who serves as the Simon Wiesenthal Center's director of Eastern European Affairs, penned a letter to the Croatian ambassador to Israel, Vesela Mrđen Korać, asking her to urge authorities to "find a way to correct their unwise and very unfortunate decision."
"Needless to say, I assume that your government is fully aware of the fact that the largest number of victims at Jasenovac were Serbs," Zuroff wrote. "Barring the President of Serbia from paying his respects to the victims is a cruel, incomprehensible measure which can only exacerbate tensions between Serbia and Croatia."
When Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, it divided the country among Adolf Hitler's allies. The region of Croatia was merged with Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Independent State of Croatia, which was controlled by the Ustasha movement. The fascist organization sought to eliminate the Eastern Orthodox Serb minority living in Croatia.
According to the Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, more than 500,000 Serbs were murdered in the summer of 1941. Another 250,000 Serbs were expelled from their homes, and 200,000 were forced to convert to Catholicism.
The Ustasha also wanted to eliminate Croatia's 37,000 Jews. Jewish people living in Croatia had their freedoms revoked and property stripped, and, by the summer of 1941, Jews were sent to camps, including Jasenovac, where they were killed upon arrival.
The Balkan rivals' relationship has been shaky ever since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the 1991-95 war in Croatia that erupted when the country's Serb minority — backed by Serbia — rebelled. The fighting killed more than 10,000 people.
Despite pledges to work together to resolve issues stemming from the war, the two nations have had several rough patches.
Diplomatic disagreements have arisen over Belgrade's claims that Croatia's government has not done enough to acknowledge its role in World War II. Meanwhile, Croatia accuses Serbia of using the issue for internal politics and charges that the Serbs have refused to acknowledge their role in the 1990s bloodshed.
Grlic Radman told reporters that Zagreb views the trip as a "provocation" that "is not sincere" or "about honoring the victims."
Vucic posted a photo of the Jasenovac monument on his Instagram on Sunday and wrote, "You [Croatia] just do your job! The Serbian people will live and never forget!"
The Croatian embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to Newsmax's request for comment.
Marisa Herman ✉
Marisa Herman, a Newsmax senior reporter, focuses on major and investigative stories. A University of Florida graduate, she has more than a decade of experience as a reporter for newspapers, magazines, and websites.
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